Yesterday the Illinois legislature gave same-sex couples the freedom to marry, making Illinois the 15th state (plus the District of Columbia) to do so, and the 9th new marriage state in just the last 12 months. With Illinois, over 37% of the American population lives in a freedom-to-marry state, up from 11% a year ago. The march towards equality is turning into a stampede!
Yesterday was a historic victory for the thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples in Illinois who can now enjoy the universally recognized relationship status of marriage. Couples like Ed Hamilton and Gary Magruder. Gary and Ed have been together for almost 50 years. At the urging of friends, Gary and Ed travelled to Canada in January of 2004 – on the 40th anniversary of their meeting – to be married. For Ed, 76, and Gary, 71 having their marriage recognized in Illinois will not only help insure that they are able to care for each other through the duration of their lives and protect the remaining spouse after one passes on, but also allows them to spend their "golden years" recognized as married in their home state.
As with all of the other marriage wins, this one grew out of intense work by many organizations. The ACLU is proud to have been a founding member and a leader of Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of organizations and individuals that directed a massive grassroots mobilization effort aimed at building majority support for marriage among state legislators. Here are some highlights of the effort:
- Illinois Unites for Marriage deployed 19 field organizers to drum up support for the freedom to marry by running phone banks (including patch-thru calls), knocking on doors, and collecting postcards from supporters, all aimed at building pressure on (and providing cover to) targeted legislators. The ACLU provided funding that expanded the number of legislative districts where the campaign conducted its advocacy efforts, and contributed its own field staff to the effort.
- The ACLU deployed its lobbying team in Springfield, capitalizing on their decades-long relationships with legislators of all political persuasions to build support, and working with other lobbyists from the campaign.
- The campaign shored up support among African-American legislators through pro-marriage radio ads featuring the voices of President and Mrs. Obama. The ACLU helped fund these ads, which aired on African-American-focused radio stations.
- Knowing that marriage is becoming a bi-partisan issue of fairness, the ACLU hired former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady to lobby for the freedom to marry in the state legislature. Brady used his extensive contacts to focus on House Republicans who had announced plans to leave the legislature, in the hope of getting them on the right side of history before it's too late.
The ACLU has also been fighting for the freedom to marry in Illinois state court, on behalf of nine couples – Ed and Gary among them – seeking recognition for their love and commitment in our case Lazaro and Matos v. Orr . Lambda Legal also has a case in state court, coordinated with ours. The plaintiff couples have been important spokespeople in the media and in the legislative effort – a testament to the importance of working on all fronts to secure marriage equality. Now that the legislature has acted, the lawsuits are no longer necessary, and couples can begin marrying on June 1, 2014. We'd like to congratulate and thank all of the plaintiffs whose courage did so much to bring us to this day."
We're now working hard to bring the equality stampede to Hawaii, where the legislature is meeting in special session to consider the marriage equality bill there. Stay tuned for updates as our work there unfolds.